19 January, 2018
Two giant pandas arrived in Finland Thursday. They are a gift from China to mark the small European nation's 100 years of independence.
The two are a four-year-old male panda, named Hua Bao, and a three-year-old female, named Jin Baobao.
Finnish officials and the Chinese ambassador to Finland welcomed the animals in a ceremony at Helsinki's airport.
"We think this is the best gift that Chinese people can give to Finland," said the ambassador, Chen Li. He was speaking about the country's 100th anniversary in December 2017.
The pandas have been renamed. Their new, Finnish names are Pyry -- or "Snowfall" -- for the male, and Lumi -- or "Snow" -- for the female.
Finnish panda keeper Anna Palmroth said the 6,500-kilometer flight from Chengdu, China to Helsinki went smoothly. She said the pandas spent most of the time resting and eating bamboo, carrots and apples.
Shortly after arrival, the pandas began a trip to the Ahtari Zoo nature reserve in central Finland, about 330 kilometers north of Helsinki. The Associated Press reports that the cold weather on Thursday was similar to conditions in China's mountain areas.
The two countries agreed on the panda deal in April 2017, when Chinese President Xi Jinping was in Helsinki for talks with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto.
The Ahtari Zoo specializes in northern European animals such as bears and lynxes. The zoo will have the giant pandas for 15 years. It has built a special Panda House annex in hopes of receiving more visitors. The building project cost an estimated nearly 8 million euros.
For more than half a century, the Chinese government has used "panda diplomacy" as a sign of goodwill and closer relations with other countries.
In 1972, the United States received two giant pandas after U.S. President Richard Nixon's historic visit to China.
More than 1 million people came to see the pandas during their first year at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.
I'm Susan Shand.
This story was reported by the Associated Press. It was adapted by Susan Shand and edited by George Grow.
Words in This Story
bamboo – n. a tall, woody plant with hard hollow stems that can be used for food, building materials and furniture
zoo – n. a place where many kinds of wild animals are kept
reserve – n. an area where animals or plants are given special protection